Xinjiang to lift blackout in 'gradual and orderly' way
Choi Chi-yuk and Ng Tze-wei
The regional government of Xinjiang announced yesterday that the communications blackout imposed in the wake of the July 5 ethnic clashes will gradually be lifted.
The internet was cut off in the wake of the riots in the regional capital Urumqi, which saw Uygurs clash with Han Chinese, leaving at least 197 people dead and 2,000 injured. Text messaging was also blocked, along with international telephone calls.
Citing a document from the regional government, Xinhua reported that the blackout would be lifted in a 'gradual and orderly' way, starting with the resumption of a selection of websites including the People's Daily and Xinhua. The report said that text messaging and international calls would be resumed after more websites were unblocked.
In the aftermath of the violence, authorities said that internet services such as bulletin boards, social networking sites and e-mail had enabled 'foreign separatist forces' to organise Uygurs to take to the streets and commit violence.
The Xinhua report conceded that the measures had brought 'certain inconveniences' to economic and social life among ordinary people, but underlined the importance of such steps in safeguarding regional stability in the remote northwestern Uygur Autonomous Region, which occupies one-sixth of China's land mass and is home to 20 million people, nine million of whom are Uygurs.
The ban was a major factor in an exodus of predominately Han businessmen from the region, who were unable to communicate with foreign customers and make transactions. Many were already unsettled after the violence and the spate of syringe attacks the following month, and Urumqi remains a tense city still.
A small number of Xinjiang-hosted websites remained accessible during the blackout, while government departments and big companies were also gradually permitted to access the internet.
Considering that Xinjiang-hosted sites could not be accessed from outside, the blackout also appeared aimed at preventing information flowing out of the region. Yesterday, wlmq.ccoo.cn, an important Xinjiang news portal, could be accessed for the first time in six months, but its forum could still not be accessed. Calls from Hong Kong to Xinjiang could not be connected.
The owner of an internet cafe in Urumqi's city centre said he had read about the resumption of internet service, in a local newspaper yesterday.
'Apart from Xinhua and people.com.cn, I can't get on any sites which are based outside Xinjiang,' said the owner, who declined to be named.
An estimated one-third of the 600 internet cafes in Urumqi have closed down since the riots.
'Candidly speaking, I've lost at least 300,000 yuan (HK$340,000) over the past half a year since the internet was cut off,' the owner said.
Asked to comment on the blackout and the inconvenience caused, he said the past six months had been very difficult but he insisted on carrying on, 'as there was no real other choice'.